Maple Ridge council voted Tuesday to give the new mayor and council pay increases of approximately 20 per cent, to offset federal changes in tax laws.
Councillors passed the motion unanimously, and wanted to be clear the pay increase will not give the next council an increase in take-home pay.
They approved a salary increase for the mayor of approximately 20 per cent, to $114,250, effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Remuneration for councillors has been based on 40 per cent of the mayor’s salary, so it will rise to $45,700.
The cost to the city would be a budget adjustment of $55,000 in 2019.
Mayor Nicole Read noted council has been “placed in a bit of a challenging situation” by changes in federal tax laws. Municipal office holders are losing a tax exemption on one-third of their salary with new federal tax reforms for 2019.
“The point of this change is actually to allow the net salary to be the same as it is right now. There is not going to be an increase in council wages, that is not the point of this,” she said.
“You can thank the federal government for that flow-through onto our local taxpayers.”
She added that Ottawa should have consulted with cities before making the changes.
Read is not running again, but offered comments about the demands of the job, including expenses and a lot of regional driving.
“Public service is really a multi-faceted decision for some people, and income is a really big part of that,” said Read.
She said mayors enter a four-year term, but may not have secure employment afterward. That can make borrowing difficult.
“There’s a lot of things people give up to be in public service that are not necessarily considered,” Read said.
“Being in the mayor’s chair is a difficult job, it comes with an enormous amount of stress, a lot of time away from family, and I think that every member of this council has been through all kinds of difficult times during this council …”
She said it would be “utterly irresponsible” for the present council to let the next group at city hall have significantly lower net pay.
“It’s really important that we don’t under-value our politicians,” said Read.
Coun. Gordy Robson said the intent is to keep the new council salary whole,
“This is different for every council member. Some of us actually get decreases in pay, which I’m willing to accept,” said Robson.
“I don’t think the federal government thought this through, because this is strictly a download.”
Coun. Bob Masse also stood by his colleagues.
“As one of the councillors not who is not running in the next election, and is not at all affected by this either way, I want to agree with the comments …” he said. “I think this is the only reasonable thing to do.”
Grover Telford, who ran for council during the 2014 election and plans to run again, is not supportive of the increase.
He said he can’t understand why councillors received a tax exemption “as opposed to the rest of us poor schmucks.”
He added: “Who gets the right to set their own pay raise in the private sector?”
Although new councillors will not have a net gain, there is still a net loss of $55,000 per year to the taxpayer, Telford pointed out.
“Set an example for the rest of us,” Telford said to council. “Show us, ‘We’re able to take it on the chin like everyone else …’”
Coun. Corisa Bell said the Lower Mainland Local Government Association is lobbying for a reversal of the federal government’s decision to eliminate the one-third non-accountable expense allowance for municipal office-holders. It has passed a resolution that it will take to the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Whistler in September.
Coun. Craig Speirs said it is good for councillors to make the salary increase for the next group elected.
“It’s always good to do this in advance of an election.”
Other councils are grappling with this issue around the country. Langley City increased its mayor’s remuneration from $84,600 in 2017 to $99,533 in 2019. Councillors remuneration will rise from $33,841 in 2017 to $49,717 in 2019.
In Mission, the mayor’s remuneration will rise from $73,906 per year to $84,394, while councillors will receive 50 per cent of the mayor’s pay, up from the current rate of 40 per cent. That means councillors will receive approximately $42,197 per year compared to $29,560 that they now get.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker has also indicated he will bring forward a motion to have councillors pay increased to cover the loss of the tax-free portion of their salary.